When Elie Wiesel Confronted Ronald Reagan
Time and again, the Holocaust survivor showed great courage, but in his last years he was saddened by how little the world had changed.
Elie Wiesel, who died Saturday [July 2, 2016] at the age of 87, lived a life of heroism and eloquence that word by word, honor by honor, distanced him from the human hell he experienced in the Holocaust without ever quite freeing him.
Even as he became famous, symbolizing the world’s desire to heal from World War II, bearing witness – and confronting the powerful wherever he saw injustice – anguished him. I witnessed the toll his efforts took on him in April 1985, after he confronted President Ronald Reagan, about a planned visit to a German military cemetery in Bitburg, despite 49 of Hitler’s SS Stormtroopers being buried there.
White House strategists had anticipated a great moment, a meeting of two eloquent defenders of democracy: the strapping, perpetually-jaunty president and the wispy, tortured writer, a Holocaust refugee, thanking his President and his adopted nation for championing freedom. Reagan was scheduled to award the Romanian-born novelist Elie Wiesel the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement at the White House, on April 19, 1985, the 42nd anniversary of the Polish Jews’ anti-Nazi uprising, the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt.